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last update 22.Sep.18
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George Michael: Freedom Uncut
aka: Director’s Cut
dir George Michael, David Austin
prd Lisa Johnson, David Austin
with George Michael, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Mary J Blige, Liam Gallagher, Tony Bennett, Mark Ronson, Nile Rodgers, James Corden, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Jean Paul Gaultier, Tracey Emin, Ricky Gervais, Clive Davis
release US/UK 22.Jun.22
17/UK Channel4 1h49

raindance film fest
George Michael: Freedom Completed just before his shocking death at age 53 in December 2016, this documentary sets out to trace the "fame and tragedy" of George Michael's life. An unusually gifted singer and songwriter, he was determined to live on his own terms, which brought him into conflict. So it's moving to hear him say that he felt that he was able to make his mark on the industry.

In the 1980s, Michael was a mega-star but he was lonely and felt out of control of his music. So, seeking a way to save his career, he walked away to regroup and change his life. After buoyantly energing with Wham, a pure explosion of 80s optimism, Michael's solo career was even more stratospheric. But there was a backlash to his soulful incursion into American R&B, so he titled his next album Listen Without Prejudice. His highs and lows were very public, charming his fans, coming out before he was ready and never letting anyone else write his story.

The film features terrific footage, performance clips and interviews with Michael about his career. He also narrates the film, expressing his insecurity as a star sharing the top of the charts with icons like Michael Jackson, Madonna and Prince, while duetting with Aretha Franklin, Elton John and Whitney Houston. He always wanted to keep his personal life private, but in the doc discusses relationships both with boyfriends and record labels, as well as his feelings about being closeted to family and fans.

Through all of this, his goal was to write songs for future generations to sing. The film's most powerful section is his narration of performing with Queen at Freddie Mercury's memorial concert at Wembley, with his recently diagnosed HIV-positive partner Anselmo watching. Anselmo's death inspired him to take on his record label in an unprecedented way. He lost the case, and his next album Older was an expression of grief and recovery.

In Freedom 90 he expresses himself bracingly: "Heaven knows I was just a young boy / Didn't know what I wanted to be" and then "Gotta have some faith in the sound / It's the one good thing that I've got". This was a man who knew that he had to protect his talent from those who wanted to push him into a mould and prevent him from growing up. And most unexpected is the way the film reveals his raucous sense of humour about himself and his private generous philanthropy.

15 themes, language
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I Hate New York
dir-scr Gustavo Sanchez
prd Gustavo Sanchez, Ricard Robles, Sandra Hermida, F Javier Soto
with T De Long, Amanda Lepore, Chloe Dzubilo, Sophia Lamar, Bibbe Hansen, Katrina Del Mar, Linda Simpson, Pat Bumgardner, Io Tillett Wright, Geordan Nicol, Penny Arcade, Kembra Pfalher
dzubilo release Sp Apr.18 mff,
UK Sep.18 rff
18/Spain 1h15

raindance film fest
I Hate New York With its ironic title, this documentary consists of videotaped interviews with four artists over 10 years, exploring transgender culture, activism and nightlife. These are people who live outside and far beyond what society says they should be. And without ever being pushy or flashy, this film reveals why they are such an inspiration.

All four women were drawn to New York to escape the constraints of their families and develop their artistic voices. Trans-superstar Amanda changed gender at 17, working as a dominatrix before a series of extreme operations turned her into the "ideal image of a bombshell". As a gender non-conforming musician, Tara aka T, is happy in New York because s/he doesn't need to fit in. Now a full-on Latina diva, Sophia came to the USA as a political refugee from Cuba. And Chloe, a veteran rocker-artist-activist from a conservative small town, feels haunted by her past even with the city's distractions.

The film is fluidly edited to allow these women to take the audience into their lives in very personal ways. It's especially telling to see them grow and adapt as artists over the course of a decade, following on from the Studio 54 years (Chloe worked there) to the flamboyant Club Kids years in the 80s and 90s, then adapting to new ways of expressing themselves through art and music while demanding the freedom to live equally. Chloe and Tara were married in a legal but openly nonbinary ceremony.

As performers, they are clearly aware of the cameras, so there aren't many moments that feel offhanded or particularly revelatory. But the honesty is notable, and each discusses their personal life openly. Chloe was one of the first artists to unapologetically take on Aids by helping patients and demanding action right up until her death in 2011. Amanda and Sofia have had major impacts on various music scenes, both together and while feuding.

All four of these artists have fascinating things to say about the city they have adopted as home and how it impacts their lives. For each of them, New York offers an escape from puritan suburbia. But there are other things that drive them. Sofia revels in being unpredictable. Amanda knowingly reminds us, "Always live life to the fullest." Chloe spent her life both being outspoken and generous. And as Tara says, "You have your voice, and that's the most important thing. The rest is just money."

15 themes, language, nudity

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dir-scr David Morris, Jacqui Morris
prd Jacqui Morris, Trevor Beattie
voices Sian Phillips, Alla Osipenko, Ghislaine Thesmar, Antoinette Sibley, Leslie Caron, Clement Crisp, John Gruen, Tamara Zakrzhevskaya
with Dana Fouras, Marlon Dino, Lucia Lacarra, Onatskaya Rimaida, Bondarev Daniil, Koltovskoy Illia
nureyev release UK 25.Sep.18
18/UK 1h57
Nureyev An ambitious biopic about ballet icon Rudolf Nureyev, this documentary is packed with terrific, never-seen footage and knowing first-hand commentary. But it's also naggingly worthy, almost completely dodging his sexuality while filling the screen with unnecessary inspirational moments. So while it endeavours to tell Nureyev's story artistically and comprehensively, the film only rarely seems to properly capture the man's spirit.

Born to a poor Bashkir family in 1938 and raised in Ufa, Rudolf was encouraged by his mother to dance, while his father violently disapproved. Still, a scholarship to study in Leningrad was too good to pass up. After misbehaving in 1961 Paris on his first trip outside the Soviet Union, the officials demand that he returns to Moscow, but he instead defects. From here his global fame explodes, as he partners with Danish star Erik Bruhn and Britain's Margot Fonteyn. His final role is directing productions in Paris before his death at 54 from Aids-related illnesses.

Filmmakers David and Jacki Morris have some superb footage of Nureyev being interviewed on American and British television, and they occasionally drop it in to offer his version of events. Then they cut away to a somewhat bewildering array of gimmicky touches including voiceover from Phillips reading confusingly from Nureyev's memoirs as well as chiming in vocally about her own experiences along with many others. Visually, there are superb archival scenes, random movie clips and new sequences shot with young dancers acting out Nureyev's life. Plus a florid original score by Alex Baranowski.

Even if this style is rather overdone, Nureyev's story is a fascinating one. So it's frustrating that major elements of his life are sidelined or ignored completely. It's never said directly that he was gay, or that Bruhn was his lover (the only implied lover mentioned is Fonteyn, oddly). His notorious frequenting of New York's gay bathhouses is left to some deliberately vague double entendre with Dick Cavett. And Robert Tracy, his partner for his last 20 years, is missing completely.

In other words, it's impossible to avoid the feeling that this wants to be an "official version" of Nureyev's life. But the filmmakers even gloss over his career, including the way they only rarely date anything. In his interview clips, his cheeky personality seeps through the film's otherwise dense, surging emotionality. Frankly, it would be more interesting to watch these interviews in full accompanied by performance clips and none of the rest of the noise that's on-screen here.

12 themes, language
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Science Fair
dir Cristina Costantini, Darren Foster
scr-prd Jeffrey Plunkett, Darren Foster, Cristina Costantini
with Ryan Folz, Myllena Braz da Silva, Kashfia Rahman, Ivo Zell, Robbie Barrat, Anjali Chadha, Gabriel de Moura Martins, Harsha Paladugu Abraham Riedel-Mishaan, Jack Andraka, Serena McCalla, Paul Teschan
release US 21.Sep.18,
UK 19.Oct.18
18/US National Geographic 1h31

Science Fair Some 7 million students globally participate in science competitions, and the top 1,700 bring their projects to the International Science & Engineering Fair. So the rivalry to be Best in Fair is fierce. With this doc, filmmakers Cristina Constantini and Darren Foster have found a group of nine wonderfully engaging teenage geniuses to follow through this process.

Now 20, Jack Andraka says life changed when he won in 2012 for his revolutionary method for diagnosing pancreatic cancer. This year's teen hopefuls have equally impressive projects, and the cameras visit their homes and schools, vividly capturing their tenacity without bogging down in scientific details. In Kentucky, 14-year-old Anjali is aware that as a female she has to present her work clearly. While surfer dude Ryan (17) and his teammates Harsha (17) and Abraham (16) are already wiped out from prom the night before they headed to this year's fair in Los Angeles.

This smoothly assembled, fast-paced doc wryly notes that these nerds most likely have never been to a dance before, so they dive in to the welcome party with gusto even as they remain singleminded. From a poor corner of Brazil, Myllena (17) and Gabriel (19) are stopping the spread of the Zika virus. From Germany, Ivo (18) is reinventing the concept of the flying wing. At a South Dakota high school, students don't even know that classmate Kashfia (16) placed third last year. And Robbie (17) from West Virginia is better at developing artificial intelligence than applying himself to schoolwork.

Each of these kids has a distinct, strong personality, and their experiences are echoed in comments from a range of previous winners. All of them intend to win Best in Fair. A teacher in Upstate New York is confident that one of her competing students will one day win the Nobel Prize. As the competition gets underway, the tension is off the scale. There are questions about rules violations before face-to-face presentations with the judges.

As one official says, it's important that these are young people because they have a vital recklessness, a willing to break rules and think outside the box. It's fascinating to watch these likeable teens set extreme goals and reach them. But even amid the intense desire to win, being at ISEF denotes that these are serious scientists, worthy of standing alongside the best in the world. So the film's final section is powerfully involving because they all can't win. But maybe one will.

12 themes, language

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